Four Downs

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Four Downs: Under-the-radar 49ers Players to Watch vs. Texans

It's time for our "Four Downs" preview of the San Francisco 49ers second preseason game against the Houston Texans. Here are all of the players and storylines that you need to keep an eye on Saturday night.

First Down: Rookie to watch

Joe Fann: Mike McGlinchey

I had the chance to chat with McGlinchey for a brief moment after the second joint practice, and he described the two sessions against J.J. Watt as "a fist fight." Each rep was incredibly physical when the pair of 300-pound giants collided in the trenches. McGlinchey's work against one of the NFL's best defensive linemen will be invaluable when the regular season comes around. He is sure to get a few more reps on Saturday night against Watt. McGlinchey held his own during practice, and I'll be eager to see how the rookie fares in a game environment.

Keiana Martin: Fred Warner

Warner will make his preseason debut on Saturday after the 49ers held him out of the exhibition opener for precautionary measures. He’s impressed coaches with his physicality and quick grasp of his new role at MIKE linebacker. Warner could see first-team reps with Malcolm Smith (hamstring) set to sit out the remainder of the preseason. He said recently in his rookie blog that he’s anxious to start making plays. He’ll get his first chance to do so against the Texans.

Second Down: Veteran to watch

Joe Fann: Joshua Garnett/Jonathan Cooper

Mike Person has done well enough over the past three weeks to earn the top spot on the depth chart at right guard for the time being. He's likely to start for the second straight week as well. But Cooper and Garnett are both expected to play against the Texans and make their preseason debuts. Now that everyone at the position is finally healthy, the competition should heat up from here. It's still way early to forecast who is going to be starting in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Keiana Martin: Trent Taylor

Taylor missed the entire offseason program and a portion of training camp coming off of back surgery. Since his return, it appears that he and Jimmy Garoppolo haven’t missed a beat. The two picked up where they left off, connecting on several passes this week during the 49ers and Texans joint practices. The Faithful would love to see that chemistry carry into Saturday night's game.

Third Down: Surprise player who may have a big game

Joe Fann: Greg Mabin

Mabin's signature moment last season came at NRG Stadium. He replaced Dontae Johnson in the second half and helped stop the bleeding against DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans star receiver was shredding San Francisco's secondary until Mabin entered the contest. The corner had a strong week of practice, highlighted by an interception of Brandon Weeden during the two-minute drill. Mabin will continue to make his case for a roster spot amid a crowded secondary on Saturday night.

Keiana Martin: Alfred Morris

Since being signed to the team on Tuesday, Morris has had less than a week to grasp the 49ers playbook and just two days of live reps ahead of the preseason contest against the Texans. However, Morris is a six-year NFL veteran with familiarity with Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He’s likely see some playing time on Saturday, and with a strong debut, he could shake up the 49ers battle at running back.

Fourth Down: Bold Prediction

Joe Fann: Eli Harold gets a sack

Harold has taken ownership of the SAM linebacker job on base downs. He excelled there in 2017 and became a dependable edge setter. But I wouldn't be surprised if Robert Saleh worked Harold in at LEO a bit more against the Texans. Now is the time to figure out if Harold can be an effective pass rusher, which is why I expect the fourth-year linebacker will see plenty of playing time. I say he'll walk away from NRG Stadium with at least one sack.

Keiana Martin: Richie James tops 100 receiving yards

James stood out in the preseason opener catching 4-of-5 targets for 46 yards and a game-winning touchdown against the Cowboys. He has continued to make a name for himself getting open and hauling in several contested catches. I predict a strong encore performance as the seventh-round pick leads the 49ers receivers with 101 yards and a touchdown. Those are big numbers for a preseason contest, but he has shown he’s more than capable of the task.

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